#36: Vacation anxiety

I feel like I’ve probably written a lot of obnoxious posts here, but this very well could be the worst. The premise: my amazing brother’s birthday gift to me is three days at Kripalu, a yoga and health retreat in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Three days of peaceful rest, yoga, beautiful nature, and decompressing from life in general–the most perfect plan ever for someone with anxiety.

And yet I have found things to feel stress over whole preparing for this desperately-needed vacation. (Because my life is so tough, or something. I listened to the This American Life podcast on Harper High School and now really feel kind of more ashamed of my silly anxieties than ever.)

Anyway.

First I was worried that I don’t have the right clothes, and will be going to yoga classes in my running shorts. Then I realized that I’m terrified of group activity classes in general. And worst of all: shared bathrooms.

I’m not a total snot when it comes to luxury or comfort–although I do very much appreciate my comfortable life. So when I found out we’d be sharing a small, spartan room, I figured I could handle it. But the communal bathroom experience is one I’ve been very happy to leave in my college dorm past life.

As I type this, I’m actually cringing in shame, because this is just so stupid to be anxious about. Ugh. I can’t even stand that this is coming out as complaining about this amazing opportunity. Anyway, you don’t need details, you can imagine why I don’t enjoy sharing shower space with other people.

I was going to end this by suggesting that my challenge is to get through each of these different fears that are cropping up, but I think instead I need to just learn to accept them, without allowing myself anxiety here. I’m here for three days whether I’m anxious or not, so I might as well jump in head first and absorb the whole experience.

20130303-192733.jpg

PLUS. It is winter in Massachusetts! And I was deliriously happy when it started snowing. I love everything about being here in the cold and the snow! Luckily I was able to cobble together warm clothing from generous friends and relatives, so I look forward to hiking around the (hilly!) grounds here.

Flurries!

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#35: Warrior Dash: Blood, infection, and tears edition

I completed my second Warrior Dash! Awesome! I did not, however, meet my goal of not skipping any obstacles. The interesting part is that I’m actually, weirdly okay with that.

grr

I am terrible at looking growly.

I was nervous before we started, but about 20 times less nervous than last year. I wasn’t sure why I felt worried at all, though–because I’d already done it and knew basically what to expect. Knowing what’s coming always helps me feel better prepared for new things. There were going to be some different obstacles, but I figured I could handle most of whatever they could throw at us. I had been running on uneven terrain and working on my upper body strength for the past couple of months, so at the very least I was better prepared than last year. I even managed to eat breakfast this time.

When we arrived at the ranch, I had zero time for nerves: I’d had too much to drink on the two hour drive, and I speedwalked the quarter mile or so to the PortaPotties while my group parked the cars.

We lined up near the back of our wave, and started with a cannon shot and took off at a good clip. We’d discussed beforehand how we wanted to run as a group, and agreed that it was to be fun and non-stressful, so there would be lots of walking involved. Worked perfectly for me, as my “running” is really more of a run/walk medley at the best of times.

By the time we reached the area where we’d had to crawl through an incredibly deep and soft mud pit last year, though, we were disappointed to still be jogging through really soft sand. And then my brother noticed that the entire pack seemed to have gone around a muddy area where the course flags were. We had passed it by this time, but it seems like the leaders maybe went around and then everyone else, unknowingly, followed? I was pretty disappointed, because it was one of the most fun obstacles last year, even if I did experience a moment of real terror (covered with helpless laughter) when my entire leg was stuck at one point.

Whatever, we carried on and did the first few obstacles. The second was a group of walls and barbed wire, similar to one last year but with higher walls. I got over all but one without assistance, and was super impressed with myself!

I could have used more mud.

Me feeling impressed with myself.

Soon we hit the first big wall: the map calls it Giant Cliffhanger (here’s a video of someone going over it). I can totally do this! my brain said. So I grabbed the rope and headed up. Once at the top, though, I could not figure out how to get my body over the peak. I was still hanging on to the rope, but needed to let go. There was nowhere to brace my feet, and my mind just sort of shut down as far as figuring out a way over. I let go of the rope and grabbed the edge of the board with my hands, but that didn’t last long. Terrified I was going to just let go and fall all the way down, I grabbed the rope again and tried to back down the wall. But I couldn’t get my feet back under myself, and halfway down the wall, the rope slipped through my hands: so I slid backwards down the rest of the angled pressboard on my knees, landing with a thump at my brother’s feet.

I knew I had scraped the hell out of my shins directly below my knees, and they hurt, but mostly I was embarrassed, so inevitably, tears of frustration sprang up. I walked around the obstacle, trying to get myself under control, because the only thing I can think of more embarrassing than falling off an obstacle is crying on the course.

That’s okay, I’ll tell them.

I’m disappointed that the same wall as last year wasn’t among the obstacles, because I’d been practicing going up and over fences. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I think I could have tackled that straight up and down wall this year.

We continued on to a water station, where I drank some and splashed some on my wounds, which I was trying not to look at. They were scraped pretty deeply, but I figured I’d get them bandaged up when I got back and be fine. (That’s half a lie; I also spent the next half hour asking my group if they thought I was going to develop necrotizing fasciitis from swimming in dirty water and have my legs removed. I’m a hypochondriac, okay?) I was a little worried about grinding dirt, mud, and disgusting water into the scrapes, but what are you going to do?

I did as many of the rest of the obstacles as I felt capable of: crawling through mud, splashing through a lake and then a canal, a tilted balance beam obstacle with a wall in the middle and huge jets of ice cold water, climbing over cars and tires, another balance beam about six feet in the air over nothing soft, and then the final fire jumping and mud pit. Crawling through mud was a bit of a disaster: my friends and people around me kept telling me to lower my butt, but I was trying so hard to crawl on my knees while keeping my shins up, it was hard to get in the right position. Luckily I know awesome people who unstuck me from several lengths of barbed wire.

YOUR BUTT: PUT IT DOWN

YOUR BUTT: PUT IT DOWN

I skipped two (unless I’m forgetting something): Chained Up and Vicious Valleys.The first I skipped because I felt like I might either slip and hit my wound with a chain, or need to kneel at the top to get over. The second I skipped because it was literally INSANE. There was a 30-minute wait even to get on, and then people were falling out, quitting in the middle, etc. I think there are more footholds in the diagram here than there were on the actual obstacle, so getting up and over that many peaks was really difficult for many people.

chained_up

I hate you.

vicious_valleys

You too.

So we finished, finally (I tried to go slow through the fire jumping, hoping it would cauterize my shins) (just kidding), received our medals, and went in search of our beer.

I love these people

I love these people.

My mom had come to watch my brother and I–partly because I have been restricted from driving, partly because she’s fun! and, bonus, to take pictures. Also I gave her my free beer, since they (so weird!) didn’t offer a gluten-free variety.

She maybe should not have worn white.

She maybe should not have worn white.

I took my time wandering around with everyone, and taking photos, before I decided to head over to the first aid tent to see if they could clean out my scrapes. I still had a three hour drive home, and while I didn’t mind being dirty, I was worried about infection. First the medics made me walk over to try to hose myself off more, so I wouldn’t have mud streaming down into the wounds. But the giant firehose shower really didn’t help all that much–when I finally rinsed out my clothes at home it took about ten minutes for them to stop running with dirt. So I did the best I could and went back, but all they could do was dab the scrapes with water and hydrogen peroxide and instruct me that when I got home I should wash them out. I had to beg for a bandage so they’d be covered at least in the dusty walk back to the car.

Yay bandages!

Yay bandages!

Once home, I spent an hour in the bathtub (after an initial shower) trying to gingerly clean all the dirt out of my scrapes. I figured I had done an okay job, but the next day I got hypochondriacky again, and went to an urgent care clinic to see if a doctor would recommend antibiotics. Because they were just scrapes, but goddamn they looked gross. (My brother wants me to post a picture of them here, but I don’t know if you’re eating or just have a sensitive stomach, so I won’t subject you to that.)

The doctor and nurse I saw both, separately, actually gasped and asked me what I had been doing. It was a little hard to explain, even with really elaborate hand motions, the exact mechanism of the event, but in any case, they told me the wounds were undoubtedly infected. They cleaned them out much better (with the bonus perk of lidocaine, thank god), and showed me how to bandage them until they scab over, plus sent me on my way with a prescription for some hardcore antibiotics. In sum, I am glad I went, to be safe.

So other than the painful open weeping sores on my legs that keep me up nights, how was my second Warrior Dash? I give it 10 out of 10, partly because I had fun, and partly because I learned a lot.

When I was getting nervous in the week before the race, Andy said to me (paraphrased):

You’re going to do it anyway, so being nervous now is just a waste of time. You can be nervous when you’re standing in front of a scary obstacle, but there’s no point in anticipating it.

^This guy: brilliant. (Also by this point I literally forgot how to make any other face)

^This guy: brilliant. (Also by this point I literally forgot how to make any other faces.)

I don’t know why, because I’ve heard this advice in one form or another for years before in my quest to vanquish anxiety, but it suddenly not only clicked in my brain, but literally turned off the nerves minutes after he said it. Magic? Who knows! But incredibly useful, and I can’t wait to put it into effect for another fear.

And I think that advice and feeling is partly why I’m feeling so good about the entire thing, even though I didn’t really meet my goals. Meh. So what? I had so much fun with my people, and did something scary. It also occurred to me later that one facet of my fear around this race was hurting myself. So basically the worst (not really the worst) happened.

ANXIETY DESTRUCTION: COMES WITH FREE HAT

ANXIETY DESTRUCTION: COMES WITH FREE HAT

#35: Warrior Dash, Take 2

Five more days until Warrior Dash 2013! I kind of can’t believe that I’m doing it again…although once it was over last year, all I could remember was the fun bits, and not the awkward, embarrassing, or painful ones. But as the weekend approaches, I’m getting more anxious about it again. (I mean, who would I be if I didn’t get anxious over every little thing, I guess?)

I’ve been practicing a little smarter this year; focusing on upper body strength and running on soft sand or in water, instead of just on roads and packed sand. And trying really hard to reduce my nerves by remembering how much fun it was last time.

My goal last year was just to finish. This year it’s twofold: I want to get over all of the obstacles without assistance (I know my awesome teammates had to shove me over a couple of walls…) and I want to do the one obstacle I skipped last year: The Great Warrior Wall.

GreatWarriorWall_2

Oh.

Aaaand looking at it right now made my blood pressure go up  by about 100%. That thing is high! I’ve been practicing climbing fences, but nothing that big, of course. Still, it’s really important to me to do it (and also not break my neck…)

I was struggling with my running this winter, so my brother gifted me with a Polar FT7 Heart Rate Monitor, which is changing my active life. It’s amazing to realize that I was pushing myself too far several times during each run–no wonder I ended up dizzy and shaking every time.

While running with it on, I’ll suddenly think of one of the Warrior Dash obstacles, or of the fact that I still can’t run 3.1 miles without walking breaks, and watch my pulse immediately jump 10 to 15 points, with a corresponding shot of adrenaline into my brain.

I’m anxious about some other life stuff, so I think that’s maybe contributing to how worried I”m getting about the silly fun race: work stress, [minor] medical issues, etc.

I’m going to consider this positive growth, though, because I’m not even close to the level of nerves I was experiencing last year at this time.

The reasons why

I’ll be picking up the challenges again soon, but I wanted to examine the reasons I stopped writing. There were three primary drivers, I think:

1. First, as I mentioned in my last post, I expected that I would have changed a great deal by September, and I was discouraged when I realized I wasn’t magically turning into an amazing person just by writing here.

2. I got really angry for a while. I’m not sure if this was from disappointment in myself for procrastinating with writing, or the fact that I didn’t see any positive changes, or just a slight depressive dip. Here’s an email I wrote to myself one night when I was fuming and couldn’t sleep (I have always had bouts of insomnia, so if I find myself lying awake with thoughts running endlessly through my head, I write them down so I can let go of them for a few hours.

I apologize up front for the language, if it’s something you’re not comfortable with. I don’t want to take it out, though, because I think it helps illustrate exactly where I was: stuck, and tantrum-ing at myself. I did redact names and identifying characteristics.

Apparently I fell asleep following this, so...mission accomplished, I guess?

Apparently I fell asleep following this, so…mission accomplished, I guess?

3. And finally, I was talking to someone from an online dating site, and we moved the conversation to email. My email address contains my last name, so I checked to see whether a quick Google would reveal this blog. Eventually, when I enter a serious relationship, someone’s going to know all of these weird things about me, but I am hesitant to have someone read it immediately upon meeting me. I made a conscious choice to be open on the internet, but I still fear that some of this–if all dumped at one moment–could seem really fucked up and cause someone to back away.

My search revealed that the FearKick twitter shows up on the third or fourth page. Most people, when googling another person, probably wouldn’t make it that deep, but it still made me freeze in indecision. And fear. Always fear!

So there you go. Not only did I not change by September, I let fear swamp me so completely that I gave up on a lot–even with an incredible amount of support from my people and near-strangers (thank you, Jordan!). I know that it very easily could happen again, so I’m trying to learn some tactics to stay ahead of it.

Epiphany, or, Quitters Just Start Over

In 2010, Sara and Andy introduced me to their New Year’s Eve tradition of making a collage representing the upcoming year, and filling out a form to reflect on the past year. I loved the idea, but struggled with it at first. In fact, last year, as I was just fully forming the idea for this blog in my head, I thought my collage would be marvelous and a great way for me to lay out my plans.

But then I didn’t finish it.

I still have a pile of magazine clippings in my desk drawer.

When my magical thinking moments take over, I wonder if my inability to finish that small project led to my abandonment of the blog at the end of the summer. I trailed off for many reasons: because I wanted to do something big and meaningful at the end of the year and I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do it; because I thought that surely, eight months in, making the effort to face my fear so often would have wrought some deep, significant change in my life, and I was discouraged when I couldn’t see any.

I think I was expecting too much. The things I tried really did change my life, even if only in small ways. I discovered that I’m gluten intolerant, and changing my diet to fit those new parameters actually was a pretty monumental shift. Plus, I stuck to a posting schedule pretty closely for those eight months, which wasn’t too bad.

Today’s my birthday, and what I usually consider the beginning of a new year. I’m not going to call this starting over. I’m going to just pick up my progress where I left off, and keep kicking things all year this time.

My 2013 collage: completed on New Year's Eve

My 2013 collage: completed on New Year’s Eve!

#34: Can we have a do-over?

Today, I have another challenge that will combine several different activities that make me uncomfortable.

Last night, I went to have my haircut and asked for some subtle highlights to be added as well. The stylist and I had a very specific exchange in which I explained that I wanted it to look very natural and not stripy, and she replied that it would not look chunky, but very blended in. Great!

This stylist has done my hair four separate other times, and every time I’ve been incredibly pleased with the results. As a reference point last night, I showed her this picture:

I see no stripes.

When she was finished, I was pleased with what I saw in the mirror from the chair. It was definitely different, and therefore I knew it would take some time for me to get used to, but it looked subtle and natural. (Maybe they have trick mirrors?) When I got home, I pulled my hair up into a bun to take a shower, and discovered this:

Pink-orange stripes. Okay.

What is this I don’t even. In what language could this be described as “not stripy”? None. In none language.

Also, it’s orange.

Happy Halloween!

In my past life, I would have just accepted this and gone on to let it fade and eventually grow out. But I spent money on this, and I want to be happy with it. So I’m going to do something terrifying: call them (on the phone!) and tell them I’m not happy with it.

If it helps make me seem less insane, I know that there’s no reason to hesitate to call. The stylist performed a service that did not measure up to what I had asked for, and so I can assume that they will happily fix my hair for me without also spitting in my shampoo.

Right? Yes.

Halloween Horror Nights: Wash, rinse, repeat as needed

I didn’t ever actually suppose that once I’d challenged myself to try something that scares me, I would never again be afraid of that particular thing. And yet…I still taken aback when I started to make a phone call and felt the intense fear leap up in my throat again. It’s disheartening to realize that although I feel better for taking on these challenges, some remain to challenge again.

I’ve never ever had any interest in going to any of the Florida theme parks’ Halloween events, like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. I’m jumpy enough as it is; why would I voluntarily walk around in the dark waiting for random people to scare my pants off?

Therefore, when I saw the poster advertising this year’s event, I gave it my usual cursory glance and then moved on…only to realize three seconds later that this was probably something I should challenge myself to try. Those tickets aren’t cheap, though, and I’m saving for my (increasingly unlikely!) Seattle trip.

So I actually used a phone (!) and called Universal’s PR department to request free tickets. Talking on the phone with people I know is bad enough–making a cold call to a strange person to ask for something is roughly 3.7 times worse. I handled it okay, only stumbling over my explanation once or twice, and only when I hung up realized that all the blood had rushed to my face. (What is that for, circulatory system?!)

Fictional representation of my circulatory system (iheartguts.com)

In sum, they turned me down flat. No tickets available, they said. So Halloween Horror Nights isn’t in the cards for me this year; that’s okay.

Can I get some volunteers to hide around my frequently-traveled routes and leap out at me when I least expect it? That should keep my heart in good shape.

#33: The Power of Now

Every time I start to write this post I freeze in fear and indecision, and put it off. So my new refrain is…better done than perfect. And I’m giving myself permission to make it short.

Also I keep receiving not-even-subliminal messages from my environment urging me on.

Creepy!

These two are both from today alone!

Okay?

This week’s restart challenge: to finally read the book my brother awesomely sent me a few months ago:

So relevant to my interests!

I’ve been avoiding reading it because I’m worried that either it won’t be as helpful and wonderful as I hope it will be, or that somehow when I report back on it to my brother he’ll be disappointed in my reaction.

That is ridiculous.

I’m sick of being worried, of feeling not good enough even for myself, and for taking criticism like it’s physically wounded me.

I’m reading it.

Starting now.

I am so far behind.

Hi. So…I am way behind in my posting schedule, and my challenge-myself schedule.

I’d like to try to explain why in a stream-of-consciousness bulleted list that I composed in my head while trying to fall asleep (so get ready, you know it’s going to be good!).

  • My brain is actually physically resistant to writing this.
  • I’ve been worried about running out of ideas for posts.
  • I’m worried my posts are boring, and therefore am reluctant to think of new ones or write.
  • Then I become embarrassed for falling behind schedule.
  • I feel like I’m inefficient at my job, partly because I’m struggling to concentrate and focus.
  • Either the cause or the effect of all of the above: I’ve slipped into a very minor depression momentarily and am working to get out of it. I think I need to take better care of myself physically, including getting back to the Whole30.

Physical approximation of my tiny dip of depression.
Photo © Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests on Flickr

  • Then I feel guilty for feeling depressed when my life is comparatively pretty damn easy.
  • So I decide to stop being so selfish and challenge myself with someone that benefits other people, like volunteering.
  • But I’m so down I haven’t brought myself to make the effort to get set up yet. (For instance, volunteering at the Humane Society in my town is intimidating: they ask that you commit to a set schedule every week, and I’m waffling about that. I’m scared to commit.)
  • Then I remind myself how supportive everyone has been throughout this entire year of this project, and I realize that I feel like I’m letting everyone down.

Confirmed: everyone is disappointed.

  • I want to address my depression by eating better, and maybe trying yoga, but then I freeze in terror at the thought of trying to join a yoga class at my current size/inflexibility.
  • Then I get sick of stupid, pointless self-pity and yell angrily in my head, which gets me nowhere.

I’m soliciting any butt-kicking you’d like to send my way.

Right now, I’m going to go have a cup of tea, and do my best to channel all this confused murky faint unhappiness into some awesome posts and tough challenges.

#32: Sans makeup

What does it mean that most of the time I worry everything to death before it happens…and then when it happens, am just metaphorically shrugging my shoulders and getting on with it?

Every time I thought about leaving my house without a stitch of Sephora-created camouflage, my anxiety flared like a case of hives. I think that on some level, the idea of people seeing the real, comfortable me that is who I am with my closest friends terrifies me, and so I see the makeup issue as a construct of that fear.

It’s like I’m saying, here’s who I am at home, with my defenses down, when I don’t care about what anyone watching would think about me…in fact, the thought that anyone is watching never enters into my head at all. (Also it helps that usually it’s only cats who are watching.)

At any rate, I decided to use my talent for avoiding certain thoughts for good, and went for it. I washed my face, applied my daily sunscreen, and walked out the door. I felt stiff at first as I left my neighborhood, because the only thing worse than a stranger seeing me as I really am, apparently, is a casual acquaintance seeing me as I really am. Some days I can escape the area without seeing anyone, but this day, naturally, I passed a neighbor of mine walking his dogs (he’s fairly attractive, which freezes me whenever I see him, even though I have absolutely no interest in him romantically). I forced myself to wave and say hi as I normally would, and then ducked my face into my hair as I sped away to my car.

I took pictures for comparison purposes, but unfortunately, didn’t realize until too late that my camera was inoperable–so ended up with awkward cell phone photos. I did make an effort to take them in the same place at nearly the same time of day, though.

Cringe.

When I got to work, the first coworker I met mentioned that she thought I looked tired. I’m always tired; this is why I love undereye concealer.

Apart from that brief solicitous note, here are the reactions of my coworkers:

  1. Already knew I was planning this, so noted that the experiment was underway and said that she didn’t think I really looked any different (is this good or bad?).
  2. Also knew the plan; didn’t really notice until the following day, when she realized that I looked different and asked me if I had been makeup-less the day before.
  3. No reaction.
  4. Asked me if I had done something different with my hair.
  5. No reaction.

That’s a pretty small sample size, of course, but still interesting.

That morning, as I was getting my things out of my car, I grabbed my jacket (for sun protection while driving!) and accidentally tossed my cell phone out of the car and into the parking lot, shattering the back. That meant a trip to the Apple Store was in order that same day.

In my town, the Apple Store is located in a pretty sparkly fancy shopping mall for very wealthy people. I’m usually comfortable running errands after my weekend morning beach runs (read: sweaty, old clothes and Vibrams), but this is one place I won’t go without being properly dressed. I think my grandmother drilled that into my head as a teenager (“We do not go to Waterside wearing blue jeans.).

Pictured: My grandmother

So I was definitely a bit skittish about walking in barefaced. But by the time I got there, it was the end of a very long day, and I still had a lot to do, so I just gritted my teeth and got it done.

Again, no specific reaction. As usual, I felt like people were looking at me, but I’m aware that’s just my anxiety, and I feel that way no matter what I look like at the moment. I managed to interact normally with the employees, get my phone repaired, and then hightailed it out of there.

Awkward smiles for everyone!

I feel pretty good that I made it through the day with no negative comments on my appearance (other than those from inside my own mind). Perhaps this will give me the capability to do without on other occasions–at the very least while running on a boardwalk in the swamp.

Or perhaps the confidence I get from filling in my eyebrows makes the entire charade worth it.

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